Agent Orange campaigners angry as many miss out

Some of the soldiers who felt the mist of Agent Orange on their backs or drank it in their water during the Vietnam War are disappointed by the compensation package.

They say it is unnecessarily restrictive, barring from compensation conditions which are covered for US veterans.

Ray Beatson, a veteran who has helped the campaign for compensation, said yesterday that many would be upset when they read details of the package and realised they were not covered.

Conditions such as heart and circulatory diseases ought to have been included, he said.

The package limits ex-gratia payments to veterans of up to $40,000 to four kinds of cancer and a skin condition, chloracne. Payments of up to $30,000 to veterans’ children are limited to two types of cancer, spina bifida, cleft lip and cleft palate.

John Jennings, who served in Vietnam’s Phuoc Tuy and Bien Hoa provinces, recalls the chemical smell from when he was sprayed by Agent Orange – a herbicide used to kill jungle and deny the enemy cover – from an aircraft in the late 1960s.

He has suffered an itchy rash since and developed a condition, linked to dioxins in the herbicide, that left him blind in one eye.

His daughter, Marrakech Jennings-Lowry, has had to spend thousands of dollars on her wide range of health problems, one of which left her unable to have children.

Mr Jennings said it was hoped a wider range of conditions would be covered, in light of Massey University research showing that Vietnam veterans had a significant degree of genetic damage.

His hope now was that the $7 million trust fund included in the package would help a wider group. Mrs Jennings-Lowry said that despite her lung, heart and other conditions, she would not qualify for compensation. “The package is sadly lacking.”

Mr Beatson, a lieutenant when he went to Vietnam with the infantry in 1967 for nearly eight months, said he decided to help press the case for Government compensation after realising the death rate among his war comrades was extraordinarily high.

By last May, from a platoon of 36 men, 12 had died. Eight were seriously unwell, a group that has grown since.

“Last year, I went to a funeral of one of the many in my platoon. The wake-up call for me was that five of the six pallbearers were beneficiaries – because of service in Vietnam,” said Mr Beatson, now aged 63.

He said there was scepticism among veterans about the compensation package, which fell short of what was sought.

“One of the recommendations [to the Government] was that veterans have access to an annual free medical. The press statement [yesterday] says one-off comprehensive medical examination. There’s a certain amount of flannelling going on.”

Roly Flutey, 59, who served in the artillery, remembers a mist of Agent Orange from aircraft falling on him and his mates. They were shirtless while playing basketball at Nui Dat camp.

“It seemed like a nice cooling drop of water at the time.”

He said he had had skin cancer and still suffered from the skin condition psoriasis, a type of arthritis, deafness and post-traumatic stress disorder. While he did not wholly blame Agent Orange, he said it played a part. He would not qualify for compensation.

He objects to the plans for a Defence Force welcome home parade for veterans.

“It’s too late. I would not go if they called it a welcome home get-together or parade.”

Published: 2006, Dec, 8. | Time-stamp: 5:00 AM Friday | By: Martin Johnston | Article Link: | Article Title: Agent Orange campaigners angry as many miss out

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